Admissions

Lawn Mower Parents

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Most of us know about “helicopter” parents. They’re the moms and dads who hover over their children to observe (and “correct”) many of their actions and other aspects of their overall lives. Helicopter parents are especially prevalent in the wonderful world of college admissions.

“Over-parenting,” as explained by social historian Barbara Dafoe Whitehead, “is not letting our kids take the consequences of their actions, swooping down to rescue them, and the result would be a spoiled brat. But helicopter parenting is entirely different, and I think it is a positive style of child-rearing.”


So, depending on the source, we can see that there is a debate about the merits or demerits of being a helicopter parent. You can do your own internet research to justify or rationalize your role as a helicopter parent, if you feel that you may be one.

However, a new “type” enters the scene: the “lawn mower parent.” What on earth is that?

For starters, Whitehead gives it the perfect definition when she notes that over-parenting, now perhaps more fashionably known as, shall we say, “mower-parenting” moms and dads are “not letting our kids take the consequences of their actions.”

Whitehead was ahead of her time in making that observation because just yesterday I found this article: “Lawn mower parents” are the new “helicopter moms.” Let’s not forget about dads, too. Here’s the core explanation from that article:

… In recent weeks, the so-called phenomenon of such parents has gone viral on Facebook after an anonymous middle school teacher shared the tale of a supposed run-in with a real-life “lawn mower dad” to educator blog WeAreTeachers.

In the post titled "Lawnmower Parents Are the New Helicopter Parents & We Are Not Here for It,” which has since received 2,300 likes and 12,000 shares on the social platform, the unnamed teacher recalls being summoned to the school's office to pick up something a parent dropped off for a student.

Believing it would be an essential item, like “an inhaler or money for dinner,” the teacher was shocked to find that a father went out of his way to deliver an insulated water bottle for his daughter. Showing up in a suit for the midday dropoff, the dad “sheepishly” began with “Hi, sorry,” before handing over the bottle, the writer says.

“Remy kept texting me that she needed it. I texted back, 'Don’t they have water fountains at your school?' but I guess she just had  to have it out of the bottle,” the father reportedly said. “He laughed, as if to say, 'Teenagers, am I right?'" the teacher remembered.

Though the educator voiced empathy with "the motivations of a person not wanting to see their child struggle," he/she could not believe that the parent of a middle-schooler would be pampered over such a minor matter as forgetting a water bottle at home.

The writer continued to define the “lawn mower parents” as those willing to go to “whatever lengths necessary to prevent their child from having to face adversity, struggle or failure.” 

Thus, the yard-care analogy apparently is that high grass represents our children’s obstacles in life. Then, as we parents see a particularly annoying patch, we fire up the old Toro and mow it down. Since I have a John Deere, I guess that exonerates me from being convicted as a LMP. Haha.

No, I can point the finger (not saying which one) at myself. This is where the art of “fine-lining” comes in. We all want to do what’s best for our children, but we have to know where to draw the line between allowing them to experience difficulties, through which they can find their own solutions and grow, and heading off potential disasters, such as when they have made an egregious mistake in judgment, which could end in disaster.

How Do Lawn Mower Parents Handle College Admissions?

Now let’s focus our attention on the juncture of lawn mower parents and the college admissions process. If you are the parent of a high school senior who is anticipating being on a college campus this time next year, you are about to witness your offspring entering the college application ordeal, with all of its hurdles, angsting, deadlines and potential rewards … and disappointments.

Those disappointments are no doubt what you want to avoid. Therein lies your potential to grab your Toro (or John Deere). As a cautionary checklist to minimize your proactive lawn care, consider these ten points by columnist Purvi Mody, which I excerpt here:

1. Guide your child in choosing colleges that would be a great fit, but don’t force your child to only apply to schools that you like …

2. Read over your child’s essays and give tips, but do not write or rewrite the essays. A teenager’s voice is distinctly different from a parent’s voice ...

3. Drive your child to an interview or college visit, but let them take control once you arrive ...

4. If you have questions that can only be answered by an admissions office, have your child call. It helps the student to develop the ability to speak to adults and to take control of the admissions process ... 

5. Students will need to ask their teachers for letters of recommendations. It’s not appropriate for parents to ask on their behalf...

6. Remind your children about due dates and help them manage the process, but don’t micromanage them ... 

7. Do not request letters of recommendations from family friends because of their connections if they truly have not had significant interaction with your child.

8. Be ambitious yet realistic in expectations. Support your children in applying to schools they really love, even though they may be a little (or much) harder to get into ...

9. Don’t compare your students to others. Seniors are as stressed as they can be right now, and comparisons to other children can only make them feel inferior.

10. Celebrate all successes. Every acceptance is cause for celebration, even if it is a safety school ...

In reading Mody’s list, I felt the urge to coin an even newer term: “Pulling-guard parent.” If you’re a football fan, you probably know about the importance of pulling guards in the offensive line. When the ball is snapped on a running play, especially on a wide sweep, the pulling guard “pulls out” from his usual blocking position and runs to the right or left in order to create blocking for the running back who is negotiating the sweep play.

This is perhaps a more detailed analogy of the lawn mower parent, who not only “blocks on running plays up the middle” (knocking down little everyday bumps, such as delivering water bottles to school) but also can improvise downfield blocks on the run (thinking ahead whenever a surprise “hardship” pops up).

Using yet another sports analogy, you may see yourself as a baseball utility infielder, capable of playing any number of positions. As you read through all the above, you may say to yourself, regretfully, “Ah, yes. I can see that I have been both a helicopter parent and a lawn mower parent.” This revelation, then, would give rise to another term: The “heli-mower parent.” For the truly obsessive mom or dad who is involved in even the smallest of their child’s tasks and challenges, feel free to throw in that football-related modifier to your accolades and become a “heli-mowing, downfield-guarding parent.” High praise, indeed!

Support Differs From Hovering

Pondering all this and thinking back about my own young years, I recall that my parents were supportive, but maintained a respectful distance. My father took a day off work and drove me the hundred miles or so for my one and only campus visit and interview. We discussed my impressions on the way home and then I handled the application details myself. My parents were not helicopters, or lawn mowers, or even pulling guards.

I appreciated that, because as a young, dedicated idealist, I had my own preferences about how to handle certain things, especially my college application process. My folks were certainly available for help when I needed them, but they didn’t force themselves onto my working style. Thus, I was able to experience and develop some independent thinking and decision making at a critical developmental stage of my life.

The lessons I learned from my mistakes during those years have stayed with me. I have to wonder about today’s young people, though, not only those who have water bottles delivered from home to their middle school, but also those high schoolers whose parents are writing their college essays for them.

The lawn mower article has so far inspired over 4,000 (!) reader comments in the 24 hours that it has been up. Here are a few of particular note:

- I've had the experience of teaching at the college level. I've also had the displeasure of dealing with the parents of adult college students who feel they need to negotiate better grades on their kids' behalf. At what age does the lawnmower/helicopter stuff end?

- From the University of Chicago Dean of students: “Our commitment to academic freedom means that we do not support so-called ‘trigger warnings,’ we do not cancel invited speakers because their topics might prove controversial and we do not condone the creation of intellectual ‘safe spaces’ where individuals can retreat from ideas and perspectives at odds with their own. …”

- If lawn mower parents are the product of helicopter parents, what will be the product of the everybody gets a trophy parent?

The list of comments goes on and on. The volume of comments suggests that this is a sensitive issue for parents. I’ve often wondered about the evolution of cultural traditions that has given rise to over-parenting in all its variations. For now, I’ll relegate all that to the anthropologists and psychologists out there.

I’m too busy to do research right now. I’ve got to take my daughter’s car in for an oil change. Red Right 30 Pull Trap! Hut! Hut!